Vaccine, rubella

A vaccine designed to prevent rubella, or German measles.

German measles was once seen merely as a child’s unpleasant rite of passage. It was thought to be a mild malady that was usually over and done in three days. So what?

Then an outbreak of rubella began in 1964. It lasted two years and infected more than 12 million people in the US alone. The epidemic affected some 20,000 American children, who were born deaf, mentally retarded or otherwise disabled because their mothers had rubella during pregnancy.

This disaster led to a campaign at NIH (the National Institutes of Health) to find a vaccine for rubella. Dr. Harry Martin Meyer, Jr. directed the effort, with Dr. Paul D. Parkman. Working rapidly, they introduced the first rubella vaccine in 1966, assuring safe and lasting immunity at low cost. Hank Meyer and Paul Parkman also devised a test to measure a person’s immunity to rubella.

The rubella vaccine has since been refined into the vaccine now known as MMR for mumps, measles and rubella. The congenital rubella syndrome is now largely a chapter in the history of medicine, thanks to the rubella vaccine.

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